BRANDON — The Brandon Chamber of Commerce is teaming up with MacDill Air Force Base to offer free child care, discounts at local businesses and other help for military families.
Operation Dove started last year but was officially launched last week.
"The purpose of Operation Dove is to keep the military families in the area informed of events and help them in the best way that we can," said Gayle Cook, a chamber member and director of the MacDill Family Resource Center in Brandon.
The center is a satellite office of the main family center at MacDill Air Force Base and offers play groups, financial assistance, counseling and other services.
The chamber program is enlisting local child care facilities willing to offer reduced rates to military families, or a few hours of free child care when needed. Requests for free care will be screened through Cook.
It also aims to encourage local businesses to offer military discounts, encourage newcomers to get to know each other and spread the word about events for military families.
The idea came about after a military member deployed overseas called the Brandon family center last year, according to Operation Dove co-chair Marti Allen.
"(He) said his wife who had three small children at home was about to short-circuit and wanted to know if we could do anything," Allen said.
About 8,600 of the 12,000 people stationed at MacDill live off base. A vast portion of those live in the Brandon, Riverview and Valrico area, often referred to as "MacDill East."
One big part of the initiative, according to Allen, is to encourage local schools to start support groups for military children. Cimino Elementary in Valrico already has such a program. Called the Cougar Corps, the club had more than 80 members last year.
Operation Dove is unique because it's a community effort rather than a military program, according to Cook.
"That's kind of unprecedented anywhere else," she said.
Jan Wesner can be reached at email@example.com or 661-2439. Read her blog about military life at blogs.tampabay.com/standingby.